I like closing the trips I’ve blogged about with takeaways - my lessons-learned before, during, and after our trip. So here goes.
Decision 2015: Go see the world
Last year, we made a decision to go see new places, different places. We love Hawaii, and we’ve been fortunate to go quite a few times. But it was time to see what else was out there. I must say that we’ve done a pretty good job in going to Europe twice this year. The Spring Break trip to Europe with the kids was already exciting enough, and to pull another Euro trip just a few months later? I’m still baffled with that idea.
The $349 European Getaway
When we made a decision to go back to Europe in November, I made a decision to try and maximize the points and miles I've earned and to pay close to nothing. Well, I did pay something. We paid $349 total (for both of us combined) which covered all our airfares and hotel stays. That was a no-brainer when we made that decision to pull this trigger back in June. It was all thanks to hours and hours of research, on how to take advantage of airline stopovers, layovers, and open jaws. It was learning to know my booking deadlines and maximizing the "book one night, and get the next night for free." We didn’t have to short change ourselves. I promised that we’d treat ourselves to the finest hotels and airlines and it all came true. It was all thanks to my points and miles. I think of them as money in the bank. Anyone can have money (points or miles) in the bank, but it’s how you use it, how you stretch it, how you make it work for you - that’s the true test.
Google Maps App
Every morning, while Nancy got ready, I was busy planning our day; where we'd go for breakfast, how we'd get there, where we'd go next, and how then do we get there. You get the picture. I relied on Google Maps to help me get an idea what it would take to get to our destination. I used this in NYC and almost everywhere else. It gives you options: by car, train, bicycle, or on foot. I chose the train option. It tells you approximately what time the next train or trolley or bus will arrive. It tells you the bus or train number. It will also tell you what it will take to combine walking and public transportation. I would take a screenshot of the map and the route and save the picture so once I'm off the WiFi, then I have access to a copy. What I liked about this, and I learned during our last trip, even when I'm off the WiFi, when I had Google maps opened, the map app moved along with even if I had no wifi or phone service. That helped a lot in giving us an idea where we were going.
I listened to my feet
|Look closely, it says Goga for Yoga mats|
Oh yes! This one’s a biggie in my books. A biggie! I wanted to walk comfortably in Europe. I threw away a very good pair of Doc Martens while in Paris, I just couldn’t walk with it anymore. For this trip, I brought 3 pairs of shoes:
- GoWalk3 shoes by Skechers - These shoes saved my life. We walked everywhere for miles. We’d leave the hotel early in the morning, and we were out and about until 10 or 11pm. It could really take a toll on your feet but the Skechers though — lifesaver. It was like walking on yoga mats. You know those mats that they use in some of the kiddie playgrounds? It was like that.
- The North Face Weatherproof leather boots - Since we went during late autumn (early winter), we planned for wet, and cold weather. Fortunately, there was only one day in Prague when it showered for most of the day. These boots saved me during the cold, snowy, rainy winter days when I traveled to the East Coast. These boots were also very comfortable. I could wear them for an entire day and not complain. The GoWalk3s actually did quite well in days with very light rain showers.
- Nike Training Shoes - as much as I would’ve loved to wear my Nikes during the entire trip, the GoWalk3s were my go-to shoes. My Nikes became my airport shoes since I like to travel comfortably wearing sweat pants.
My favorite Nikes. Lots of mileage in New York City, and my favorite shoes during flight days
No cell phones data usage, no battery power back-up, no need for a SIM card
If there was something I wanted to change from our Euro trip back in the Spring, it was to prepare our phones for International or local calls, and have the access to internet wherever we went. Well, we didn’t go with that plan.
We didn’t buy SIM cards for our phones. There was free Wi-Fi almost everywhere we went. The data rates were pretty good too, so our FaceTime or Viber conversations were quite clear. So many cafes, stores, airports, and even some of the metro terminals offered free access to the Internet. To make sure our phones had enough juice, we left the hotel with our phones fullycharged, we put the iPhone on low battery mode (thanks, Apple), and we brought along a couple of iPhone cables and adapters. There were many places we could plug in to so we never felt that we had a lack of way to communicate. The cafes and restaurants we chose, 90% of them offered free WiFi and had power outlets available. In London, when we were with friends and family, they also let us use their phone’s hotspot. We got lucky with this trip. We were able to communicate timely with our family whenever we needed so.
So which one is it? London, Budapest, or Prague?
|The State Opera House in Budapest|
If we were going with sheer beauty, I’d have to say Budapest. I’m a sucker when it came down to viewing the House of Parliament and the Danube River that was right across our hotel room. It was almost like looking at a glowing treasure box. We spent 4 amazing evenings in that room and it was like looking at a picture perfect postcard. It was bright, shiny, and luminous. We stayed on the Buda side and our hotel was centrally located from all these gorgeous buildings, castles, churches, and bridges. It was a sight to behold. Oh, this was where we watched our very first opera, Madama Butterfly. That thermal bath though! Wow, I’ll never forget that morning at Gellert’s Bath. The cafes we went to - The Book Cafe (the Sistine Chapel of coffee shops), and our dinner at Cafe New York at the Boscolo Hotel - very memorable.
With Prague, there were so many highlights. But it’s the cobble stoned pavements, the morning we spent at Lennon Wall, the Prague Castle, and watching Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre, the same theatre where Mozart conducted this opera during its premiere - mesmerized by them all.
London - the takeaway here was the time we spent with our friends and family (our niece, Sheena, our friends, Donna and Yen, and our extended family, the Reyes family). There’s no doubt that London itself is magical with the palace, the Tower of London, London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament, watching Miss Saigon on the West End, Abbey Road, Notting Hill, Chinatown, Windsor Castle, The Shard (Shangri-la), Platform 9 3/4, Harry Potter, and our five-star hotel stay at The May Fair (man, we did a lot!!!). But, it’s the quality time we spent with folks I mentioned, I will forever remember that. Thank you very much!
What do they all have in common?
Public Transportation - I’m actually jealous. I wish we had more accessible public transportation in Southern California. Yes, I know we have trains, buses, metros - but nothing compared to the accessibility I’ve seen in New York, Italy, Paris, London, Budapest, and Prague. It was an organized chaos with the way that the tram/trolleys/metros worked. I can still vividly see the long escalators that took us all the way from top to bottom, all the advertisements and posters in the metros. From the ticket stubs in London, to the honor system in Prague and Budapest. It’s a culture that we don’t have in Southern California. We rely heavily on our personal vehicles. We spend hours stuck in slow moving traffic. We loved the convenience of public transportation, and I’ve always embraced it as part of our travels.
History - We loved walking around knowing that there was some kind of history. We loved seeing buildings, old buildings, and in some cases, next to the old buildings are new buildings, the old meets new. I was in awe with the way they preserved history, the way they took pride of their past, and how they integrated the future while respecting their past.
Arts and Culture - it was hard not to get sucked in to embracing art and culture. From London’s West End, to the operas and concerts we watched in Budapest and Prague. We only planned on watching Miss Saigon in London, but the more I learned about the places we visited, the more it encouraged us to embrace their art forms. All in all, we watched:
b. Madama Butterfly - Opera - State Opera House (Budapest)
c. The Best of World Musical - Concert - St. Michael’s Monastery Baroque Hall (Prague)
d. La Traviata - Opera - The National Theatre (Prague)
e. Don Giovanni - Opera - The Estates Theatre (Prague)
The Food Though
What would this blog be without food? Traveling was even magical when blended with new culinary experience. It allowed us to discover new things. I stayed away from Filipino food (since I knew I’d be coming home to it, no matter what, hahahahaha!). What did we eat? Or what did we not eat?
- London - there were lots of similarities with food in the US. But we made sure we had their Full English breakfast, and we searched high and low for the ultimate Fish and Chips experience at the award winning Poppy’s. We also had Malaysian food, something I’ve only had when I traveled to NYC and Las Vegas. That was delish.
- Budapest - Goulash, goulash, goulash! The oven baked pork knuckle (lechon) that, too, was amazing. The winner though was Doner Kebab! Hahahaha! I never thought I’d eat kebab in Budapest. Doner Kebab for it’s accessibility, quick service, and delicious gyros and Greek Salad.
- Prague - Beef Goulash, the Prague Ham, the braised cabbage, and our unforgettable lunch and dinner at Kogo restaurant. The desserts at Cafe Terapie, the breakfast at Cafe Lounge - unforgettable.
I knew that London wouldn’t be a problem from a language stand point. Save for the British/English accent, we were able to converse easily with the locals. I was surprised with the level of English knowledge in Budapest and Prague. I didn’t have to worry about learning new phrases (I probably should have anyway). But the people, not only did they converse with their best English possible, they were all so very helpful. They took pride of their country and they must know that having tourists visit their country help in building their economy.
How do we defeat terrorism?
A few days before our trip, there was a terrorist attack in Paris that claimed over 100 lives. The thought of canceling our vacation did not cross our minds. Surely, it made us think of all the unfortunate events around the world. But we proceeded with our plans. We didn't want to cancel. We didn't want to live in fear. That's exactly what the terrorists wanted is for everyone to be terrorized.
Now, we are able to look back at the two amazing weeks we spent in London, Budapest, and Prague. I'm hoping for more getaways in the near future, but for now, we're glad to be home safe with our family. Thanks to everyone who followed our journey. For now, keep on traveling whether near or far.